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FTC Requires Labels on Homeopathic Drugs: "No Scientific Evidence" They Work

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The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has had it with marketers of homeopathic products. The agency has ruled [PDF] that all homeopathic products must now be labeled with a warning that there is no scientific evidence that they actually work.

The theory behind homeopathy is, itself, a little hard to swallow. Practitioners believe that whatever causes an illness must also be able to cure it, and that diluting a chemical can transform it from toxin to treatment. But even if that were true, the homeopathic products on store shelves today are so watered down that you’d need to take hundreds of thousands of doses in order to ingest a single molecule of the so-called active ingredient.

Scientists have been studying homeopathic remedies for as long as people have been using them, yet they’ve found no evidence that these products are any better than a placebo. These products cannot do what they say they can do—but until now, they’ve been allowed to go on saying it anyway.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulates, well, food and drugs. Herbal supplements and other so-called natural remedies are largely outside their purview. This lack of government oversight has enabled the explosion of a multi-billion-dollar industry in which an untested bottle of pills could claim to cure anything from cellulite to cancer.

The FTC can’t do anything about a drug’s efficacy or safety, but it can do something about all those unsubstantiated claims. The agency released a 24-page report [PDF] on homeopathy advertising and sales that concluded, “No convincing reasons have been advanced …  as to why efficacy and safety claims for OTC homeopathic drugs should not be held to the same truth-in-advertising standards as other products claiming health benefits.”

The agency’s new ruling gives homeopathic product marketers two choices: Either they can stop making unsubstantiated claims about their products, or they can add a warning to their drugs’ packaging. The warnings must communicate that a) there is no scientific evidence that the product works; and b) that the claims made on the package are based on outdated, unproven theories that are not accepted by modern scientists or doctors.

Telling consumers the truth is a step in the right direction, although it may be too little too late. Numerous studies have shown that we don’t actually read or heed a package’s disclaimers. The FTC’s own report found that 25 to 45 percent of consumers believed that a sample product had been approved by the FDA. They continued to believe this even after reading a warning on the package that clearly stated the opposite.

“It’s embarrassing to admit because it sounds like people are stupid,” advertising lawyer Rebecca Tushnet told Slate in 2014. “In fact, people are human. They have limiting processing capacity, and you can’t just stuff information down their gullet.”

You’re a smart reader (we know this because you’re on our site). If you want to avoid getting ripped off, apply those savvy reading skills the next time you’re in the pharmacy.

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Animals
Owning a Dog May Add Years to Your Life, Study Shows
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We've said that having a furry friend can reduce depression, promote better sleep, and encourage more exercise. Now, research has indicated that caring for a canine might actually extend your lifespan.

Previous studies have shown that dog owners have an innate sense of comfort and increased well-being. A new paper published in Scientific Reports and conducted by Uppsala University in Sweden looked at the health records of 3.4 million of the country's residents. These records typically include personal data like marital status and whether the individual owns a pet. Researchers got additional insight from a national dog registry providing ownership information. According to the study, those with a dog for a housemate were less likely to die from cardiovascular disease or any other cause during the study's 12-year duration.

The study included adults 40 to 80 years old, with a mean age of 57. Researchers found that dogs were a positive predictor in health, particularly among singles. Those who had one were 33 percent less likely to die early than those who did not. Authors didn't conclude the exact reason behind the correlation: It could be active people are more likely to own dogs, that dogs promoted more activity, or that psychological factors like lowered incidences of depression might bolster overall well-being. Either way, having a pooch in your life could mean living a longer one.

[h/t Bloomberg]

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Live Smarter
Not Sure About Your Tap Water? Here's How to Test for Contaminants
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In the wake of Flint, Michigan's water crisis, you may have begun to wonder: Is my tap water safe? How would I know? To put your mind at ease—or just to satisfy your scientific curiosity—you can find out exactly what's in your municipal water pretty easily, as Popular Science reports. Depending on where you live, it might even be free.

A new water quality test called Tap Score, launched on Kickstarter in June 2017, helps you test for the most common household water contaminants for $120 per kit. You just need to take a few samples, mail them to the lab, and you'll get the results back in 10 days, telling you about lead levels, copper and cadmium content, arsenic, and other common hazardous materials that can make their way into water via pipes or wells. If you're mostly worried about lead, you can get a $40 test that only tells you about the lead and copper content of your water.

In New York State, a free lead-testing program will send you a test kit on request that allows you to send off samples of your water to a state-certified lab for processing, no purchase required. A few weeks later, you'll get a letter with the results, telling you what kind of lead levels were found in your water. This option is great if you live in New York, but if your state doesn't offer free testing (or only offers it to specific locations, like schools), there are other budget-friendly ways to test, too.

While mailing samples of your water off to a certified lab is the most accurate way to test your water, you can do it entirely at home with inexpensive strip tests that will only set you back $10 to $15. These tests aren't as sensitive as lab versions, and they don't test for as many contaminants, but they can tell you roughly whether you should be concerned about high levels of toxic metals like lead. The strip tests will only give you positive or negative readings, though, whereas the EPA and other official agencies test for the concentration of contaminants (the parts-per-billion) to determine the safety of a water source. If you're truly concerned with what's in your water, you should probably stick to sending your samples off to a professional, since you'll get a more detailed report of the results from a lab than from a colored strip.

In the future, there will likely be an even quicker way to test for lead and other metals—one that hooks up to your smartphone. Gitanjali Rao, an 11-year-old from Colorado, won the 2017 Young Scientist Challenge by inventing Tethys, a faster lead-testing device than what's currently on the market. With Tethys, instead of waiting for a lab, you can get results instantly. It's not commercially available yet, though, so for now, we'll have to stick with mail-away options.

[h/t Popular Science]

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